Enrico Ferri 1902

Clericalism and Socialism

Source: English translation in the Social Democrat, February 1903,
Response to a questionnaire from the journal Le movement socialiste in 1902;
Transcribed: by Adam Buick.
Proofread: by Andy Carloff 2010.

Socialism being a scientific and experimental doctrine – because it is a theoretical induction of social and especially of economic facts – must necessarily in its very essence be anti-Clerical. Socialism being also a political party which defends working men and labours for their freedom, must also be anti-Clerical, because Clericalism, with its spirit of resignation, is “the fatty degeneration of religion” used as the ally of capitalist supremacy.

When one undertakes Socialistic propaganda and organisation, then it follows that human consciences must be opposed to every form of intellectual dictation, and still more to the Clerical spirit. But Socialists need not engage in a direct anti-Clerical propaganda. They are free thinkers, and must, therefore, respect the faith of sincere believers, especially if they are peasants, among whom it is impossible to engage in an anti-Clerical propaganda. For they would think this was an anti-religious propaganda, and they would not listen to the truths of the Socialist doctrine.

Therefore, a directly anti-Clerical propaganda would only have a very slight result. But it is easy to show, when a strike occurs to peasants and workers, the social meaning of Clericalism, when it is seen that the priests are always on the side of the capitalists. In Italy, where anti-Clericalism derives its strength from national sentiment – for the Catholic Church is opposed to national unity – the middle-classes have, after an anti-Clerical propaganda of a hundred years, achieved hardly anything.

On the other hand, in the country districts, where Socialists have carried on a directly Socialist propaganda, peasants and their wives have become sincere anti-Clericals. My province of Mantua shows an example: In one village, when the priest spoke about religion he was listened to, but when he attacked Socialism the congregation left the church. At Molinella (near Bologna), where there were famous strikes of women in the rice-fields, a Conservative journalist noticed that the peasants hung over their beds, not the pictures of saints, but portraits of Marx and Socialist deputies. He asked them if there had been any agitation against the Church, but he was told, “No, we are Socialists.”

The Socialist Conscience is the most revolutionary force that can be given to a human creature. It is the result of all methodical and reflective opposition against the forms of political, economical, religious, and intellectual oppression. It appears to me, therefore, that the Socialist Party should not take the initiative in anti-Clerical agitation. It should continue constantly and thoroughly a Socialistic propaganda, which makes and conquers Socialistic consciences. But if some of the middle classes carry on an anti-Clerical agitation the Socialistic party should not stop them. They should rather help them against an assault of reactionary forces, but on condition of taking their own place and being independent, so that they can continue their work of Socialistic propaganda and organisation, the only one which represents all the revolutionary energy of the new humanity.

Enrico Ferri,
Deputy to the Italian Parliament.
Rome, October 15 [1902].